Outsurance. Broken brand promises, bad process and the social media effect...

BROKEN BRAND PROMISE #1: With claims service so fast, it’ll be as if it never happened.
BROKEN BRAND PROMISE #2: We care about you, and we protect you.

I actually like Outsurance's new set of TV campaigns (see below). They're catchy, witty and speak to one of the critical parts of the insurance relationship - the claims process. Pity their business process doesn't support their brand promise. Pity we hear that a lot these days. And pity these companies have to put up with maverick, renegade social channels that refuse to let them hide behind their own inefficiencies and poor service.

This is the second horrendous Outsurance experience I've had. I use the first experience quite often in my talks - live tweeting a bad experience causes irate customers to group around you and open switching opportunities to other market players. This behaviour is as old as the hills - we get switch arguments at every braai we attend. The world has just got a lot smaller, a lot quicker and the conversations have moved from the braai to the web. I'm surprised that direct insurers aren't more worried about the disintermediation potential of social channels.

The second experience I want to turn into a case study - there's a lot of juice lessons for business in here. Outsurance is a company that is evidently not learning from it's prior mistakes (and evidently not integrating the learnings of it's Online Reputation scanning efforts) - or at the very least, they're not learning from the experiences with one of their more vocal customers. That has all the trappings of a good case study if you ask me.

Enjoy the ad first, it really is quite funky.

Now let's understand the timeline, because that's where the lessons start...
  • Sunday afternoon: Burgled. TV stolen. 2 doors and a gate broken. Started claims process. They suggested we phone back on Monday, chances are we wouldn’t get good service if we waited for them to phone us. (I wonder if the sales department has ever asked a customer to call back?)
  • Monday morning 8am: Phoned call centre, chose option for Building Insurance (front door was broken, entry point). Building transferred us to Contents. Contents wanted to call us back. Called us back fairly quickly. Transferred us back to Building Insurance. Lodged claim. Outsurance promised someone would call us back shortly.
  • Monday morning 9:30am: No call. Phoned call centre again to get status. Told that it was out of their hands. Tone at this stage is dismissive. (An important point here, is that I'm away and have a wife and child in a house that is completely unsecured - dismissive is probably not the tone my protective insurance provider should be taking). Outsurance gives us the number of the service provider, asking us to chase their service provider. (While they probably didn't mean this, it really made me feel like I was part of a "low cost" product process. When your process fails, don't get your customer to fill in the gap.)
  • Monday morning: Phoned service provider 4 times.
  • Monday morning 11am: Got hold of service provider, who said they’d arrive in the afternoon.
  • Monday afternoon 2:30pm: No word from Outsurance on progress/next steps. No word from service provider. Tried to call service provider again, no answer. Phoned Outsurance. As customers, we are now concerned that business hours are ending and the house will be open for the night, again (the same experience we had last time - the Invisible Man doesn't like it when weekends intrude on his super hero crusades. Guards are nice, but not as nice as getting the problem fixed). We’re now upset at the continually unhelpful, unsupportive tone of the agent. We get a little angry and are promptly told to “not use that tone”. (Looking at this objectively, you're probably starting to see the cracks that are appearing simply due to lack of customer relationship or empathy...)
  • Monday afternoon 3:15pm: Call from Outsurance to say service provider will arrive to make the house secure. We asked “what happens if service provider can’t secure front door because at this late stage, they certainly won't be able to replace it?”. Outsurance said “it’s the service provider’s responsibility.” (It seems that I would have had more luck building a relationship with the service provider here, not the R100+ million ad spend brand). 
  • Monday afternoon 3:30pm-ish: Frustrated, I escalated to social media.
  • Monday afternoon later: Outsurance responded in about an hour from a Twitter account called @DinkyOUTSURANCE that was completely unbranded and had less than 10 followers (it still doesn't and remains unbranded). It took a bit of back and forth just to ascertain who the hell I was talking to. For a time, I wondered whether phishing had extended to Twitter! (By the wayI think the 1 hour response time is pretty damn good for a big, hulking call centre based corporate - but unfortunately not quick enough to quell the groundswell of negative conversation that exploded. And a couple more broker switch opportunities. A very rough Tweetreach calculation saw 30+ people involved and a potential reach of over 20,000 people. While the CEO isn't going to see a stock price dip at this event, I'd say: ignore 20,000 people at your peril).
  • Tuesday: Assesor arrived.
  • Wednesday: Claim approved.
  • Thursday: TV available for collection.
  • Friday: TV delivered.
  • Next Tuesday: First possible door installation opportunity (it’s currently bolted to the wall in order to ensure our house doesn't degrade into a Red Hanger Sale on audio and video equipment). Turns out it can only be installed on the Friday because supplier needs a full day at the house. (I shudder to think if I'd been in a corporate job that required me to take leave to sort this out, might have added some bitterness to the brew. I'll give Outsurance the credit of the Tuesday though.)
  • To this day: I have never heard back from @DinkyOUTSURANCE. Her last tweet ended: "Will be in touch".

We're now 9 days post claim for the front door and back door. 5 days post claim for the TV. So much for The Invisible Man.

You'll forgive me if any of that comes across as emotional. Although it's not intended as such - claiming, robbery and unsecured houses are emotional events. Let's deconstruct everything and pull some lessons out. If Outsurance doesn't want to listen, then I welcome anyone else in the service game (that's everyone these days?), whether you're on social media or not - to grab these points and use it as a check list at the next Exco meeting.

Lessons direct insurers need to learn to improve customer relationships and touch point management (so we don't have act like dicks and yell at our friends to attract their attention on social media):
  • You need to understand (which I’m sure you do) that the moment of claim is one of ONLY two  touchpoints between customer and insurer. In a claim, the customer is already stressed - so what are you doing to make it better for them? Calm them down? Never underestimate the power of a supportive tone of voice. And never underestimate how easy it is for customers to tell that your Sales side and Claims side are pretty much Jekyll & Hide in their approach to us. 
  • Don't make your customers chase your suppliers. Sounds pretty damn obvious, doesn't it? It's the easiest thing in the world for a call centre agent to follow a back and forth process that manages the suppliers coming out to a customer's home and FREQUENTLY updates said customer on progress. I'm pretty sure Outsurance did this when I used their Home Emergency line (for geysers, blocked drains etc.) Why not now? An operational business needs to hide that operational nature from the customers. It's why we pay you isn't it? These days, it's not unusual for people to cover ever element of a bad experience in the highly emotive, risky and viral social channels. Talk about opening your process up to the world for interrogation.
  • Return calls when you say you will. One of the more sardonic tweets that went out during this ordeal was that my wife was getting better service from the South African Police Service (who were brilliant) than from Outsurance. Guys, this is just about being polite. Does your call centre have a process for re-inputting call back times and prompting the agents? Or is this left to agents and Outlook task lists? What if that agent gets busy? There has got to be a way to do this...
  • Don't make your customers feel like they're part of a sausage machine. I get the direct insurance model. High focus on low cost lead generation, manage the risk through data quality and rely on process efficiencies to squeeze sufficient margin to please shareholders. But that's not the service I'm buying as a customer. I don't want to be squeezed for efficiency. I don't want to feel like I'm getting a "cheap" version of a product - because you don't sell it like that. If one day I see an Outsurance message that says: "Come to us for super cheap insurance premiums, you'll sacrifice a little customer service, but like Game, we'll beat any price", I'll change my tune...
  • Understand that social media is probably an escalation channel not an origination channel. Again, you will most likely be dealing with customers that are pre-pissed off from dealing with your failed traditional channels. All the supportive, quick response advice from above applies. Be empathetic. Care. Oh yes, and don't ask for details if you don't have to. That just shows me that your social media team sits in a corner, far away from your business. Look me up on the system if you can. If there are multiple records, and you're unsure, get a claim number. You don't need back and forth DM'ing (direct messaging on Twitter) to get this right. These days, we KNOW when you're "trying to take it offline".
  • When you respond on social channels, your brand is just as important. I had a real problem with the DinkyOUTSURANCE Twitter account. Very few followers, no brand icon, not even a profile picture for that matter. Didn't your Momma told you not to trust people on the Internet? Especially in social channels, you've got to take your brand representation as seriously as you take it on your TV/Print ads. Because that's the person representing your brand. That's the conversational route looking for from the start.
  • Set and manage expectations. We (customers) might bitch a lot, but we are realistic. We understand that the Invisible Man is "exaggerating for effect". But when we're not given an expectation of when certain things may happen, we tend to make up that expectation. And then companies will always fall flat.
  • Careful about brand promises. There really is nowhere to hide these days. The pendulum of power has swung firmly back to the consumer. Not across all markets, I understand this. But it will. A brand promise is something to be taken quite sacredly - and the Invisible Man just didn't deliver. He failed. Badly. Chubby, overweight man in spandex - my altered view! Before you make a promise, make sure there are processes to back it up.

At the end of the day, this needs to be about learning, not bitching - especially for someone in my position. I hope Outsurance hears this. I hope it lands up on some Exco desks and questions are asked.

It's a tough job, this customer service thing. If you have 100,000 customers, and you have 90% brilliant service, that's still 10,000 pissed off people you've left behind. Maybe some companies are OK with that... I'm not. Because even if the process is slow or the service expectations aren't managed - you can often mitigate damage with the littlest of things. A bit of caring. A bit of effort. A bit of empathy. We're human after all, that's how we operate.

Dear Outsurance... Please watch this video. I use it in all my talks and workshops on the intersection of customer service and social channels. Warning, it has foul language. But it makes 2 excellent, salient and wise points. We can learn from Mr Gary Vaynerchuk.

Firstly, we love our parents, because they loved us first. How many companies can say they truly love their customers? For an INSURANCE company, you have to play that role. You're protecting me after all.

And secondly, in Gary Vaynerchuk's immortal words: "Companies who don't give a fuck, are going to fucking lose".




  1. Really good post. I like the way you describe each event as per day, i think brands like OUTsurance shouldn't claim to be what they're not. I've had the exact same response from them too when we claimed. A small bathroom pipe burst, and my house was flooded for nearly 3 weeks. I wish their brand manager sees this.

  2. I have never had a bad experience with Outsurance and I've been with them for years and claimed for cars and break-ins. Prompt, efficient, friendly service Every time.

  3. Hi Andy, I really did enjoy your post, and from sitting on the broker/insurer side it outline a number of issues from a client perspective which we often do not fully consider. I hope you dont mind but I will be sending this to all our staff as an educational piece.

    Kind regards


  4. @missleilah Thanks... You know, I understand things go wrong, companies arent' perfect, neither are processes. But we have the tools today to help them improve by talking about it. They've been pretty damn nonchalant about dealing with me and looking to improve, so, it goes on the blog for public debate.

  5. @Paulie - with pleasure, hope it educates :) Works well as a checklist to just run through and check what you have in place to prevent a scenario like this occuring with any of your clients...

  6. I really did enjoy your post, and from sitting on the broker/insurer side it outline a number of issues from a client perspective which we often do not fully consider. web design company

  7. Ideas are abundant but a disciplined approach and strong Brand Managers group is what makes reality happen. Does that core group of professionals, administrators and human resource exist at the top?


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